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Fiction Traditional Publishing Fantasy Middle Grade Young Adult

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#1 GoddessDanu

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Posted 05 February 2018 - 12:30 PM

Hello, writing community!

Thank you for being here. I need you. Let's start with that. =)

Ok, so, I've completed a fantasy story (magic, travel into memoryscapes, swordfighting) with an 11-year-old female protagonist. The book has no sex, drugs, or rock n' roll (or cursing), but it has some pretty serious themes and a big deathing at the end (parent). It is currently around 87k words.

I'm at the stage where I'm getting ready to submit to agents and... I'm just not sure who my target audience is. By main character age alone, it's middle grade - but the problem is, when I was writing this, I always imagined an adult reading it.

Can a fantasy book written for an adult audience have a child protagonist? I've read a few (Ender's Game, the Flavia DeLuce mysteries, IT), but those authors have a much more mature voice than I do, and the books are darker overall. I'd characterize my writing as "straightforward and charming" (except for the dying parts, you know). But my MC does a decent bit of self-reflection and the story changes her outlook on life and the world dramatically. These are cues that the book is YA, at least, but I don't know that teenagers would ever want to read about an 11-year-old.

So this is my issue. I honestly wrote this for myself and my spouse with no thought, at first, as to who else might want to read it. Can you help me figure this out?

Thank you - I'm happy to answer any questions that will help make this choice clearer.

GD



#2 NCruz

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Posted 05 February 2018 - 04:04 PM

It still sounds like MG.
 
Before you query agents, you should grab beta readers or critique partners who read and/or write MG. Otherwise, if you wrote only for you and your spouse, that's your audience. ​You also should put the book aside and read a lot of recently published (within past 3 years) MG fantasy. Agents want you to be well educated about the current market. You'll also want to have comp titles on hand for agents who require them in query forms.
 
If your book is indeed MG, you'll want to cut down your word count. 
 
"When writing a longer book that is aimed at 12-year-olds (and could maybe be considered “tween”), using the term “upper middle grade” is advisable. With upper middle grade, you can aim for 40,000 – 55,000 words. These are books that resemble young adult in matter and storytelling, but still tend to stick to MG themes and avoid hot-button, YA-acceptable themes such as sex, drugs and rock & roll. You can stray a little over here but not much." - Writer's Digest
 
"FANTASY MIDDLE GRADE: 35,000-75,000 words. Sweet spot: 45,000-65,000
Juliet Dove, Queen of Love by Bruce Coville: 43,912
White Mountains by John Christopher: 44,763
Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander: 46,926
Midnight for Charlie Bone by Jenny Nimmo: 65,006
Harry Potter & the Sorceror's Stone by JK Rowling: 77,508" - literary agent Jennifer Laughran


#3 mwsinclair

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Posted 06 February 2018 - 07:35 AM

I agree with Nessa, it sounds like MG and you'll likely need to reduce your word count. That's not a bad thing; it tends to tighten up your story and make it easier to read and, likely, more entertaining for a broad audience. That broad audience could attract the adults you imagined enjoying it.

 

There's nothing wrong with writing a book that you imagine the whole family being able to read (Look up AQCer R.S. Mellette's interview on Mindy McGinnis's podcast, Writer Writer Pants on Fire podcast https://writerwriter...obert-mellette/ for more on that.) But your book will still need to find a shelf in the store or in the potential reader's mind.



#4 Springfield

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Posted 06 February 2018 - 12:07 PM

 

Hello, writing community!

Thank you for being here. I need you. Let's start with that. =)

Ok, so, I've completed a fantasy story (magic, travel into memoryscapes, swordfighting) with an 11-year-old female protagonist. The book has no sex, drugs, or rock n' roll (or cursing), but it has some pretty serious themes and a big deathing at the end (parent). It is currently around 87k words.

I'm at the stage where I'm getting ready to submit to agents and... I'm just not sure who my target audience is. By main character age alone, it's middle grade - but the problem is, when I was writing this, I always imagined an adult reading it.

Can a fantasy book written for an adult audience have a child protagonist? I've read a few (Ender's Game, the Flavia DeLuce mysteries, IT), but those authors have a much more mature voice than I do, and the books are darker overall. I'd characterize my writing as "straightforward and charming" (except for the dying parts, you know). But my MC does a decent bit of self-reflection and the story changes her outlook on life and the world dramatically. These are cues that the book is YA, at least, but I don't know that teenagers would ever want to read about an 11-year-old.

So this is my issue. I honestly wrote this for myself and my spouse with no thought, at first, as to who else might want to read it. Can you help me figure this out?

Thank you - I'm happy to answer any questions that will help make this choice clearer.

GD

 

 

Nothing in there doesn't sound MG to me -- self-reflection and changing outlook aren't specific to YA; they're hallmarks of MG, just differently. In YA a changing outlook is like realizing friends aren't always friends, and you're going to move on in life (like to college), so sometimes you leave people behind because they're toxic Mean Girls. In MG a changing outlook is like realizing friends aren't always friends and you can find new friends or stand up to a playground bully and still be ok even if you don't get invited to the cool b'day party because whatever. 

 

Serious themes are also part and parcel of MG. 

 

However, 87k is massive for MG and should be cut down by tens of thousands of words to be viable. 



#5 GoddessDanu

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Posted 10 February 2018 - 06:18 PM

So, update. I've done some research and I'm a little shocked.

I've had lots of people tell me that Middle Grade must be 40-55k otherwise forget it, so I went to the library and grabbed a half dozen MG fantasy books. Their word counts were (from smallest to largest): Crenshaw - 25361 Doldrums - 58196 Loki's Wolves - 72500 Bad Unicorn - 79643 Odd Aquaticum - 79895 Sidekicked - 86145 Time Traveler - 92142 13th Reality - 93468

So now I'm feeling like it might be okay to pitch this as Middle Grade, but I don't understand why people keep yelling at me to cut 40k from my 87k novel. These can't ALL be weird outliers... can they?

But MG can't allow a higher wordcount than YA... and people say YA fantasy can't be longer than 75k.

I think I'm just confused between what people "say" the industry standard is and what seems to actually be happening in terms of publishing books.



#6 lnloft

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Posted 10 February 2018 - 07:26 PM

They might not be outliers, but they also aren't necessarily the author's first books, either. I wasn't familiar with any of them, so I Googled a couple. 13th Reality is apparently YA, so it doesn't apply here, anyway, but Sidekicked is John David Anderson's second book, for instance, and Gergory Funaro appeared to have a couple other books out before Odd Aquaticum. I bring these up because this means these authors were already established before these other books you brought up, which grants an author a lot more leeway. I have a similar frustration with adult fantasy, as I see books of 200,000+ words all the time, but those tend to not be the author's first book. This is why I'm not querying my 250,000 word behemoth in favor of querying a more reasonable 104,000 word book. Remember, the longer a book is, the more it costs to publish, so a publisher is generally more likely to bite on an untested author if their book is shorter (but not too short: otherwise they figure people won't want to pay to buy it), just because it's less of a financial risk. J. K. Rowling could probably pitch a 100,000-word MG fantasy and have no problem, because she's J. K. Rowling and people would buy it on that alone, but alas, you and I are not J. K. Rowling (yet), so it's in our interest to play it a little safer on the word count. A first time author trying to get a 87,000-word MG fantasy published isn't impossible, it's just way more difficult than trying to sell a 50,000-word one. That's why everyone here is recommending that you cut the word count if you want to sell it as MG.


Nothing to reciprocate on right now; I'm off in the query trenches.


#7 NCruz

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Posted 10 February 2018 - 07:32 PM

Seconding lnfloft.
 
As a debut author, you are not the exception. You want to be safe with word count. Once you're famous, you can dropkick the rules to space. 
 
Stay safe with word count, and after an agent signs you, you can talk about beefing up your work.
 
For every successful attempt at an exception, there are many more unsuccessful attempts.


#8 GoddessDanu

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Posted 10 February 2018 - 08:22 PM

Thanks, guys.  This is a real poser for me.  I've written the story I mean to tell, and cutting it in half to fulfill the 'rule' doesn't appeal to me.  But cutting it DOWN is doable.  If selling, say, a 75k MG fantasy is 'not impossible but more difficult' that's actually reassuring to me... I don't mind if it's more difficult.  I have other stories in me, I guess, and maybe this isn't the one that sells or starts me off.  But this is the story I wrote, and it is what it is!  Making the character older or slashing the story by so much isn't honestly in service of the story.  

 

It's a weird hobby we chose, eh?  LOL.  I appreciate the feedback and advice.



#9 Springfield

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Posted 11 February 2018 - 12:15 PM

 

So, update. I've done some research and I'm a little shocked.

I've had lots of people tell me that Middle Grade must be 40-55k otherwise forget it, so I went to the library and grabbed a half dozen MG fantasy books. Their word counts were (from smallest to largest): Crenshaw - 25361 Doldrums - 58196 Loki's Wolves - 72500 Bad Unicorn - 79643 Odd Aquaticum - 79895 Sidekicked - 86145 Time Traveler - 92142 13th Reality - 93468

So now I'm feeling like it might be okay to pitch this as Middle Grade, but I don't understand why people keep yelling at me to cut 40k from my 87k novel. These can't ALL be weird outliers... can they?

But MG can't allow a higher wordcount than YA... and people say YA fantasy can't be longer than 75k.

I think I'm just confused between what people "say" the industry standard is and what seems to actually be happening in terms of publishing books.

 

 

First, where are you getting the wordcounts, as the Internets is often confused as to how to calculate that. Second, are those all true MG, as yours or are some upper MG (hint: a number are upper), which gives more latitude. Third, are those all debut books (they're not)? 

 

Finally, it is possible to pitch something with an outsized wordcount -- though yours is WAY outsized, so I wouldn't really consider it - if every word is needed. I've almost never seen that to be the case. Mostly, it's people who don't think they can edit down, but who really need to edit down. I'm handy with a scythe and can cut tons without affecting much of anything. It's *possible* your thing is double length and every word is perfection. It's also possible I might win the lottery. Neither is really likely though.



#10 GoddessDanu

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Posted 11 February 2018 - 02:28 PM

First, where are you getting the wordcounts, as the Internets is often confused as to how to calculate that. Second, are those all true MG, as yours or are some upper MG (hint: a number are upper), which gives more latitude. Third, are those all debut books (they're not)? 

 

A: You're right, the internet.  Sometimes it's wrong, but mostly its right on wordcounts.  Double checking helps.  I'm fine with my story being considered 'upper middle grade'.  I know they're not all debut books.  I did my research.  I looked up each of their agents and publishers and grade levels and wordcounts. 

 

Finally, it is possible to pitch something with an outsized wordcount -- though yours is WAY outsized, so I wouldn't really consider it - if every word is needed. I've almost never seen that to be the case. Mostly, it's people who don't think they can edit down, but who really need to edit down. I'm handy with a scythe and can cut tons without affecting much of anything. It's *possible* your thing is double length and every word is perfection. It's also possible I might win the lottery. Neither is really likely though.

 

A: This is the weird thing I find on writing message boards: people who get some sort of weird pleasure 'putting others in their place.' This entire paragraph is self-aggrandizing and unhelpful.  I never claimed my writing was perfection.  You don't need to try and tell me, sight unseen, that my writing isn't as good as I think it is and that I really need to edit down but don't think I can.  I'm pretty aware of my limits and capabilities.  I've looked up your credentials but you don't know mine.  I plan on editing down, and I know it could be leaner.  But it's never going to be 50,000 words lean - not this story.  Now that I know some upper MG fiction goes at 60, 70, even 80k, I will do my best to pare it and peddle it.  If it doesn't sell, that's okay - like I said, I have other stories to tell.  But this one is not a 50,000 words story.

 

I shouldn't let people like you get to me.  I'm sorry I even responded to you.  But you're representative of a group of people I've met online who like to lord their very minor success level over people and wield it with the false confidence of ultimate truth.  You don't know, any more than I do, what will or won't get picked up because much of it has to do with timing and finding someone to champion one's work.  I wish you the best of luck with yours, and wish you would simply do the same for mine.

 

Thank you, everyone else for your thoughts and advice.  I am submitting as Upper MG and cutting down to 75k for right now.  I've sent out my first queries and look forward to what comes in the weeks that follow, whatever it might be.  The journey is as important to learning and growing as the outcome.

 

Danu







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